The default panel discussion room set appears to be a long table at the front of the room, draped with a white (or black) tablecloth with skirting. Corded microphones sitting on a stand are at each panelist position – or between two panelists to share. The lectern is downstage right (or left). The audience is seated theater-style in rows.
Sigh. Yet another typical panel discussion, probably chock-full of presentations, leaving just a few minutes for Q&A at the end. Ho-hum.
Who wants to walk into a room like that? No life; no energy. Where’s the joie de vivre?
Don’t default to the traditionalists. You can easily spice up the room by getting rid of that darn long table. It acts as a barrier between the panelists and the audience. Instead, create a warmer climate by bringing in barstools or living room furniture (just like in the talk shows!). Cozier furniture creates a more intimate and interesting dialogue. Just make sure the chairs don’t swivel and couches aren’t too deep that the panelists sink into it. It’s also a wise idea to let the panelists know beforehand what kind of chairs you are using. They are probably expecting a traditional set-up and might re-think wearing that short skirt, holey (or no) socks and other potential wardrobe malfunctions once they know they won’t be hidden behind a draped table.
Put the chairs in a shallow semi-circle with a small cocktail table in front or to the side (for notes or water). The moderator can stand to the side of the lectern, in the audience or among the panelists. Try not to hide behind the lectern for the same reason we want to get rid of the long table. The lectern is seen as the moderator’s “crutch” and yet another barrier to the audience.
If the budget allows, wire the moderator and each panelist with a headset or lavaliere microphone. If you have a modest budget, ask for a cordless handheld to be shared among 2 panelists. (So if you have 4 panelists, then you’ll need 2 microphones.) The moderator should have a dedicated microphone.
Put some live plants, decorations or backdrop to make the stage more inviting. Project images of the company logo or meeting theme against the backdrop or to the sides of the stage. (Just make sure you don’t project the images over the faces of the panelists.) And right before the panel starts, take one last look around and remove the clutter. Old plastic water bottles, random tables, loose pieces of paper.
Play some energetic music to greet the participants as they walk into the room. You might even raise their expectations of the panel session.
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Kristin Arnold, professional panel moderator and high stakes meeting facilitator, shares her best practices for interactive, interesting, and engaging panel presentations. For more resources like this, or to have Kristin moderate your next panel visit the Powerful Panels official website.